Thursday, March 06, 2008

XChange is Everything Channel

Day One at XChange 2008 in L.A.

The day started with an airplane ride, of course. Hopped in a cab to scoot over to the hotel.

Traffic Traffic Traffic.

Result: The SMB Conference Call started in a taxi and finished in a hotel lobby. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Thanks to Jeff Middleton for a great interview! When this audio is posted to, please tune in and get a hint about the strategies for SBS 2008 and the server formerly known as Centro.

On this conference call, we also broke the news from Bob Nitrio that XChange had changed their name to Everything Channel. So, after advertising XChange for months, I need to go do some edits.

Then I hopped on an interview with U.S. News and World Report. See previous post.

So, by the time I checked into Exchange, I'd been "on the clock" for about six hours.


Why The Channel?

Some people - including some of my very good friends in the SMB Community - rail against evil vendors at our conferences. So why do 250 of the most successful consulting companies in the U.S. want to go to a four-day event that's 100% vendor presentations, 100% pimping, and 100% full court press from the likes of HP, Dell, CA, Symantec, IBM, etc.?

"Everything Channel" is different from every other event because vendors are basically paying money to get feedback from the channel. They also take the opportunity to make major announcements to the channel.

Our community tends to talk about our love/hate relationship with Microsoft. But the truth is, we have similar complex relationships with all of our vendors.

At my table, the talk started out pretty clearly focused on loyalty -- loyalty that goes both ways. Consultants want vendors to stop selling direct to our clients. Vendors want us to join their program, participate fully, and stay for the long haul. Of course this paragraph represents a massively complex set of intermingled relationships.

Some vendor screw-ups were evident in my conversations. Symantec was extremely late coming up with a decent channel program for small VARs. Sonicwall's partner portal is so screwed up that VARs basically go around the process, register all the devices to themselves, and cut Sonicwall out of the client relationship. CA has been begging for our business for three years, but there's so much history that they just can't overcome a reputation for horrible service.

Buzzwords here are:
  • Margins
  • Broader solutions
  • Increased services
  • Market share
  • Easy to buy/sell
  • Deal Registration
  • Best of Breed
  • Single Source
  • Upsell and Cross Sell

Everyone knows: switching brands is very difficult for a "trusted advisor." Our clients trusted our decision to go with Brand A. How do we make the switch to Brand B? How often can we do that?

One of the most interesting things about the relationships here is that Technicians are from Mars and Vendors are from Venus. Why? Well, look at who we are: The large vendors are multi-billion dollar corporations. The small vendors are multi-million dollar corporations. Meanwhile, the large VARs are multi-million dollar companies while the small VARs have less than a million dollars in sales.

We don't talk the same language. We don't walk in the same circles. Both sides are made up of plain old human beings. But both sides know that their "corporate culture" is different and their perspective is different.


Best First Impression

Fortinet wins the award for best first impression. When I got off the elevator, three beautiful people in safari outfits were handing out keys that might unlock a fortune. Go to the Fortinet suite and try your key right now.

So I walked past every other vendor's room and went to the Fortinet room. It was amazing. Total jungle make-over. Every inch of wall and floor had been covered with jungle-themed material. An eight foot (non-inflatible) giraffe. Plastic snakes. Sales people in safari shorts handing out jungle drinks in hurricame glasses. I had the non-alcoholic version. It was barely after noon and not yet lunch.

Most vendors had horrible, boring, tables with monitors. Yawn.

But thumbs up to Fortinet for putting a lot of work and creativity into their presentation.

At the end of the day, we're all just humans playing a game called business. As with any game, we ought to be having some fun!

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